Questions for the future director of the Harry Ransom Center

Kelsey McKinney

Editor's note: Kelsey McKinney worked as an intern in the Department of Public Affairs during the 2011-2012 academic year.

After 25 years as the Director of the Harry Ransom Center, Thomas Staley will hand over the responsibility of leading the staff and acquiring collections to Stephen Enniss. 

While at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., Enniss was responsible for the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and the largest collection of early English printed books in North America. Enniss worked as curator and director of Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library before joining the staff at the Folger. Enniss will start at the Ransom Center on August 1 and assume all responsibilities upon Staley’s retirement August 31. The Daily Texan interviewed Enniss about his expectations and motivations for his future tenure at the Ransom Center. 

The Daily Texan: How do you expect your new job as Director of the Ransom Center to differ from your current position?

Stephen Enniss: Well, I think that the Folger and my previous experience at Emory University have been perfect preparation for the Ransom Center’s very broad and deep collections, spanning from the Renaissance to the most contemporary writers and artists. Really, the past experience I’ve had touches on each period of history that the Ransom Center has documented. Coming to the Folger, I was at Emory University for 16 years, and it was while at Emory that I was very active in acquiring major literary archives, which of course is a special strength of the Ransom Center. 

To elaborate, I was always aware when I was building collections at Emory how I was engaged in an activity that paralleled the works that Tom Staley and the staff at the Ransom Center were doing. So, in that way, I think the transition should be an easy one.

DT: What led you to want to lead these large literary institutions? 

Enniss: I certainly have been a literary creature from a very young age and a consumer of poems, and novels, and short stories and plays. So that’s primary. But I also respond very much to the artifact, the object itself and what these objects say about the past and what they contain about the past. So working in research libraries that are known from their acquisitiveness has been a perfect fit for me. I’ve always had an acquisitive streak myself, whether it was natural history artifacts that I would pick up as a child or later books that I would collect. In some ways, I feel like the act of collecting is really the first act of scholarship and certainly a foundation of what the Ransom Center is engaged in. 

DT: Do you have a favorite author, or an area you’ve studied extensively?

Enniss: That’s something like asking someone to pick your favorite child. I presume that [Staley] can say that he prefers “Ulysses” because Joyce is safely dead. But I’m involved in collecting so many contemporary and living authors at this point that I wouldn’t want to pick among them. My own research interest is focused on contemporary Irish poetry, but my own graduate work was in the American novel. I should be equally at home in developing the collections of major novelists and short story writers as well. 

DT: Looking forward to your time as director of the Ransom Center, do you have any personal goals? 

Enniss: I think the first task is really to sustain the program of excellence that’s been achieved there and that’s not necessarily a new initiative. In terms of things that might be purely new, I think all of us in the research library community that collect major archives know that the nature of modern archives changed in the mid 1980s. We have to plot a smart path forward for managing and making digital archives available for research. 

DT:  Do you have any coveted collections you dream of acquiring?

Enniss: The most important acquisition is always the next one. What often focuses one’s attention is the next opportunity. I can’t tell you at this point what that will be, but we have to be oriented very much to the future. Certainly, literature is a personal research interest and a personal passion of mine, but the Ransom Center collections extend far beyond modern literary figures. Things that have been acquired over the years create a kind of DNA record. When you look at the collection strengths that are there and map that DNA, you find that those strands lead you to other collections that are complemented by the existing holdings. I will very much be using my sense of that genetic map to further the Ransom Center’s collection activities. 

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Thomas Staley, director of Harry Ransom Center, to retire

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